preschoolers

To the Siblings Left Behind

I had prepped all summer for my oldest kids, the twins, to head off to Kindergarten. 

We prepared in tangible ways. I checked off the list of school supplies: crayons (both twistable and regular), scissors, notebooks, glue sticks: double of everything. We shopped for new clothes and set aside time for hair cuts. We went through the Kindergarten workbooks from their preschool teachers. We practiced opening lunch boxes, granola bars, and applesauce pouches; I showed them what was trash and what to bring home.

I tried to prepare them socially. We talked about how some kids in their class might have different skin colors. Some might have two mommies and some might have only one parent. Some friends might not celebrate the same holidays or eat the same foods we do. I told them I wanted them to do well in school, but the most important thing is for them to be kind.

Emotional preparation was more difficult. I wondered how the long days would affect them, something impossible to prepare them for. Would they be absolutely exhausted when they stepped off the bus at 4:00 pm? Would they need a snack, a hug, a nap?

I made lists to reassure myself. At least I had control over some things. I shopped for crackers and cheese and organic juice boxes for lunch and snack time. I added important dates to our family calendar. I stuck a note on the refrigerator: water bottle, snack pouch, lunch box, juice box, homework folder to help us remember everything in the morning rush.

I thought about how those long days would affect me. Just what was I supposed to do all day with their younger brother? I’ve never had only one kid at home all day. What would I do with Nolan and all three-and-a-half years of his energy, his spirit, his mad drive for socialization?

The first day of school arrived, and as that big yellow bus pulled away that very first morning (they ran on without a look back), I held Nolan in my arms to wave goodbye. And then it happened. His lower lip pouted, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached after the bus in despair once he realized what had happened. His 5 1/2-year old brother and sister, the built-in playmates he’s had for literally his entire life, were gone. And he was left behind.

In all these preparations, I hadn't taken into account what all this would mean for him. Not once had I thought about how all this would affect Nolan, number three in my trio, born exactly two years and two days after his brother and sister, who wears the same shoe size they do, the three-and-a-half-year-old who is so big strangers frequently stop to ask if they’re triplets.

2019 09 10 All Bus stop 06.jpg

Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Rest and Routines and Afternoon Target Runs

“What about this silly thing?” became a game during the last five minutes of our Tuesday afternoon Target run.

“What about this silly thing?” one would ask, and then make a goofy face or point at something, like a rack of clothing, which looked innocent to me but sent all three kids into peals of laughter. The first twenty minutes of calm vanished almost instantly as their energy bubbled to the surface. They weren’t naughty per se, but they weren’t exactly model children, either. They were mostly loud. (As one might expect with two five-year olds and a three-year old who don’t suffer much from shyness.)

We made it through the check out lane (barely - one kid was banished from the cart aka banished from being in close proximity to his siblings) and out to the car. They were nearly hysterical with laughter at this point. I tried to map the quickest route to the dentist in my head, our next stop, as I loaded both kids and Target bags into the van.

“Guys!” I finally cried, pulling out of the lot, “Be quiet! I just need to think!”

Their giggles filled our minivan and set my teeth on edge. My fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter than was necessary. I took what I thought was the turn for the dentists office and realized almost immediately I’d turned one intersection too soon.

“Why did you go this way?” Caden asked, giggling now at my mistake.

“Because I can’t think!” I said. “You can run around and be loud when we get home but right now I need you to figure out how to control your energy!”

And that’s what they should have been doing before this dentist appointment: running around the backyard, being loud. Needless to say, an afternoon trip to Target is not a part of our normal routine.

+++++

Our days have followed a pretty set pattern during the past five-and-a-half years. Routine anchors our days. I’ve read how rhythms and routines are so important for small children, seen how my own kids are thrown off when our groove is broken. Really, though, I’ve created these routines as much for myself as for anyone else. (Enneagram 1, anybody?)

The kids have glommed onto these rituals, too. They know that a 7 on the clock in the am means it’s time for breakfast, while at night it equals bedtime. An 8 indicates it’s time to get ready for the day and a 5 in the late afternoon means dinner is imminent.

They know the pattern of our days: eat breakfast, dress and brush teeth, outing or activity, home for lunch, nap/quiet time, screen time, playtime at home, dinner, bed. They know that Wednesday is grocery day, Saturday mornings are for video chatting with Grandma and Grandpa, that we eat tacos on Tuesdays.

Lunchtime is an important anchor in the day for us all. The kids eat before I settle them in their bedrooms with crayons, paper, puzzles, and LEGOs for quiet time. Occasionally, all too few and far between these days, Nolan takes a nap. I retreat back downstairs to sweep the crumbs off the counter and make my own lunch, sit down and read a book where there was chaos only moments ago. 

These fifteen minutes or so are all mine and I savor every bite. It’s the one meal each day where I’m not interrupted with requests for more water, or more pasta, or more of anything. There’s no spilled milk, no reminders to please sit on your butt facing the table, no pleading to eat just one more bite.

Our post-quiet time TV-watching emerged from my reluctance to let go of the quiet. To return back to Earth and the chaos so suddenly once the clock gave them the go-ahead to stampede back downstairs. Instead I turn on the TV and they watch a show or two to ease our return to the real world. I often join them on the couch again with my book or (reality check) some laundry to fold.

 I hold tight to these daily rhythms, afraid that if I let them go I’ll lose myself altogether.

2019 07 24 Flowers 01.jpg

+++++

Target became a part of our afternoon on Tuesday after Nolan acquired the fifth and final sticker on his quiet time chart, earning him a LEGO set of his choice.

“Let’s go to Target! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he cheered. I couldn’t deny his excitement, especially since we had the time before their dentist appointments. And Target is only a four-minute drive from the dental office, after all.

That Target trip/dentist combo wasn’t the only thing to disrupt our schedule this week. Our routine was also thrown off by afternoon swim camp. Combined with two nights of early evening t-ball games it feels as though our days have both been cut short (dinner at 4:30!) and stretched out longer (bedtime at 7:30...if we’re lucky). I’ve been scarfing my lunch down with the kids, quiet time has been nonexistent, the book I’m reading sits abandoned until I fall into bed at night. 

“I haven’t had any time to myself this week!” I told Tyson on Wednesday night, overwhelmed with writing deadlines and grocery orders and emails - things I usually tackle after lunch during the remainder of quiet time. Instead I was with the kids (including a particularly unruly three-year old) from morning to night without even a screen time break. The only time I had to myself (theoretically) was during swim lessons, where I kept one eye on my two swimmers in the water and another on Nolan in the adjacent activity room while also attempting to create a grocery list with the swim school’s spotty Wi-Fi.

+++++

I realize now that I’ve structured our days to facilitate rest, both for myself and for the kids, to help prevent any of us from getting burned out. The middle part of our day is so important: the lunch/quiet/screen time part. A breather from the morning hours before tackling the afternoon witching ones. Our routine gives me stability just as much as it does them. When these habits are interrupted it throws me off, as though my very center is off-balance.

This week showed me that my fear is a valid one: once I let go of our daily anchors my day does become unhinged. And so do I.

I had a professor in college who would remind us, during particularly challenging courses, that the semester was only sixteen weeks long. “You can do anything for sixteen weeks,” she would tell us.

It’s only for this week, I remind myself. I can do anything for a week.

And I can. I did. We made it to Friday. The next couple of weeks sit heavy in front of us, without much on the calendar before school begins and we fall into an entirely new routine. But at least in the next two weeks there will be time for regular lunches, normal quiet times, and even — glory hallelujah — daily doses of screen time.

rest blog hop image.jpg

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Rest."


Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

2019 05 12 Caden Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

+++++

Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





What I See (Part II)

Thursday afternoon, we went to Nolan’s Early Childhood Screening appointment. I guess I’m not sure how this works in other states, but here in Minnesota, all children are screened at the age of three by their school district to prepare them for Kindergarten. They check vision and hearing, standard doctor appointment stuff, but also their verbal abilities, fine and gross motor skills, etc. The goal is to intervene and help kids as soon as possible - refer them to speech therapy or an appointment with an optometrist - to catch potential problems sooner rather than later.

I wondered as we drove if I should have rescheduled Nolan’s appointment. The twins had done theirs at his age, but they seemed more mature. Maybe I should have waited six months or so. He was smart but was he really ready? I thought of his energy, his defiance. Would he even answer the teacher’s questions? I prayed the next hour or so would go well. If nothing else, I figured we’d be directed to a therapist.

I sat in the hard, blue plastic chair across the room filling out paperwork as Nolan copied the teacher as she stacked blocks, drew a circle and some lines on a page. I listened as he quietly told her all about the yellow car she handed him with the red wheels that were circles and went vroom. My shoulders relaxed; it seemed to be going well.

It did go well. It went very well.

“He scored a 23,” the educator told me as we went over his score sheet afterward, “He only needed a 14 to pass. I’ve almost never seen a 3-year-1-monther do so well.”

I stared in disbelief at the paper, noted that he scored far past what he would have needed even six months from now.

“His cognitive abilities are impressive,” she told me, “He was able to do things even the four-year olds I see have trouble with. And he is very verbal.” (Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.)

+++++

The day before, Wednesday afternoon, I had knocked gently on Tyson’s office door. I try not to bother him during the day. I usually only knock on the door if I need to raid his office for a fresh roll of tape or some batteries.

He opened the door and I put my head on his chest and started crying. I could sense his surprise. (We can both probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in our eight years of marriage.)

“I’m so...tired...of parenting Nolan,” I finally told him.

That morning Nolan had tried every single ounce of patience I had and even a couple extra ounces I didn’t even know were there.

“Nolan, don’t go in the sandbox right now, it’s too muddy,” I told him. About twelve times. (Along with a few other variations such as “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” and “Show me how you go down the slide instead.”)

“Leave the chalk in the bucket,” I told him. Only to find him a few minutes later sending stubby piece after stubby piece down the slide.

“Put the chalk back in the bucket please,” I said. He defiantly looked away. I touched his cheek to make him look at me. “I told you before not to take it out. Your consequence now is to pick it up.” It took a few minutes, but he did pick up a few pieces from the rainbow pile on the ground, now wet from the morning dew and still-melting snow. Half-heartedly. I found him eating pieces of chalk not long after.

These were not isolated incidents in an otherwise calm morning. This was all in the same eight-minute span. Previously he’d also waved a stick around and hit two people in the face, taken off both his shoes and socks at the park in the 42-degree weather (one landed in a puddle), and refused to throw his granola bar wrapper in the garbage at snacktime. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, the boy needs constant vigilence!

It wasn’t an unusual morning, either. It was just the latest in nearly three years of days that had gone just the same. Three years of attempting to balance his needs for high energy and high socialization without burning myself out in the process.

+++++

The drive home from the screening appointment was very different from the one there. I kept glancing back at him in my rearview mirror, his big, bright eyes searching the sky for airplanes as they so often do, munching on some bright orange crackers that were leftover from his earlier snack.

Who are you? I kept thinking. His score was high, higher even than Caden and Brooklyn’s when they completed their own screening just two years ago. I was just hoping you would pass and now I feel like my world is upside down.

It’s not that I didn’t think he was smart - he is. But Caden and Brooklyn’s high scores for the same screening weren’t a surprise for me. They’re the ones I’ve always been concerned with pushing academically. Nolan with all his energy — I’ve just been concerned with trying to keep him alive.

As I drove I thought of my prayer for him every night, Lord please just channel his energy into good, and I wondered at the blue-eyed boy in the backseat, babbling about PJ Masks and oblivious to all of my thoughts.

2019 04 04 Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

“So how’d it go?” Tyson asked as I made dinner that night.

I looked at him, wondering how to answer. “It went fine. He passed,” I finally said.

He sensed the hesitency in my voice, “Just barely?”

“Tyson, he more than passed. He scored even higher than Caden and Brooklyn did.”

“Oh,” Tyson’s eyes widened and he laughed, “I just hoped he would pass. Awesome!”

I smiled even as my mind continued to swirl, wondering what to do with my trouble-making, energetic, clever little boy.

+++++

Thursday night, I sat at my kitchen island and Googled what to do with him. I researched energetic three-year olds and smart three-year olds, and didn’t find much help. It’s not exactly like there’s advanced preschool. (Also felt like the world’s most obnoxious parent for Googling “gifted three-year olds”.) I read about engaging him in as many activities as possible, to give a direction to his energy and focus his high capacity for learning. This at least explained why he’d excelled in dance class all year.

It also gave credit to the theory I’ve had in my head for awhile, that he was smart but bored, and his energy and constant search for attention was the outward manifestation of the intelligence buried inside.

I rubbed my forehead as I searched for programs and activities - anything -  for three-year olds which were either a.) nonexistent or b.) combined with the two-year olds. I sighed and gave up for the evening, relieved that I had at least signed up him for three mornings of preschool in the fall.

+++++

Over a week later and I’m still thinking about that screening appointment, still feel a little as though my world has been turned upside down. I’ve told some relatives and friends how well his screening went and have mostly been met with the response, “Yeah that doesn’t surprise me”. Maybe because they’re further removed from the day-to-day challenges than I am, of parenting a little someone with such boundless energy.

I feel the weight of the responsibility - even more than before - to watch over him, push him, protect him. To work even harder to engage and advocate for him. If I can help him channel his energy now, guide him, direct him, parent him, love him. If I can find him the right activities, teachers, coaches, so that he can thrive.

He burns so brightly already. I want him to shine. I want everyone to see just what he can do.

+++++

Tyson has been playing a game with Nolan lately, taking inspiration from the book Dear Zoo.

“First God sent me an Emily,” Tyson tells him, “But I didn’t want an Emily. So I sent her back.”

“Then God sent me a Logan,” Tyson continues, “But I didn’t want a Logan. So I sent him back.”

Tyson continues on, listing off the names of Nolan’s friends and sending them back. Nolan’s smile grows bigger every time.

“Then God thought really hard and he sent me a Nolan,” Tyson finally says, “And he was perfect. I kept him”

Perfect. We’re keeping him. I’m going to watch him climb some more.

Life Lately

It’s officially spring. Spring feels like the new year to me. The bright sun (out past 5 pm!), melting snow, birds chirping. Forget all that “new year new you” stuff on January 1st. That’s the deepest, darkest part of the middle of winter, for crying out loud. Forget adding workouts or salads to the routine. The only thing I’m ready to do come January 1 is sleep a little more (because it’s dark all the time), bulk up with more creamy soups and all the carbs (I mean, fresh, local produce is basically nonexistant so clearly this is what the good Lord intended), and increase my caffeine intake (because I tried to sleep more but then remembered at 6 am that I still have children). No, whoever invented the calendar made a real mistake; January doesn’t feel like the new year at all. But spring sure does.

2019 03 17 All Outside 01.jpg

Tyson gave me a 10-class pass to a new yoga studio just down the road from us. For Christmas. And “new yoga studio” meaning well over a year old. Every time I drive by I think, “I really need to check that place out.” I’ve started to make use of it just this past week, killing myself in barre class and powering through vinyasas. It feels good. It’s still sunny in the early evening and the threat of walking from a 92-degree yoga class into temperatures literally 100 degrees colder outside has passed. I’ve been continuing at home; for the past five days I’ve either done a class or some Yoga with Adriene in the living room. That’s damn near a record for me.

I’m emerging from my winter hibernation. And it feels good. Also sore. But mostly good.

+++++

2019 03 18 All Swimming 01.jpg

+++++

I noticed Caden made friends with another boy at basketball practice the other night. “Friends” meaning I saw Caden suddenly walk over to him and start retrieving his ball everytime he shot and missed the basket (which was...every time). Caden would run after the ball and dribble it back to him; he must’ve done it a couple dozen times.

I wondered at this show of kindness, and asked him about it on the way home, “Why did you start playing with that boy and getting his ball for him?”

“Oh,” Caden answered, matter-of-fact, “I noticed that he wasn’t very good at catching the ball or dribbling. So I made a deal with him that I would get it and give it back to him so he could shoot again.”

Well then. Not exactly selfless but maybe he’s onto something?

+++++

2019 03 19 All Playtime 02.jpg

The other morning they spent time playing together at the table after breakfast. Brooklyn painted with a set of watercolors while the boys put PJ Masks puzzles together. We don’t have many slow mornings, we’re usually either off to preschool, a playdate, the library, or the store. And often when we do, I regret it around 9:30, which is about the time we all seem ready to kill each other. But this time, it was nice. It’s often been nice, lately. I think they’re learning how to play with each other a bit more and feel the need to kill each other a little less. It made me think of just how few lazy mornings we’ll have next year.

+++++

Which reminds me: these arrived in the mail the other day. Come mid-April, we will have not one but two kindergarteners officially registered for the 2019-20 school year. What in the actual world.

2019 03 22 Kindergarten 01.jpg

+++++

Reading this piece on the beauty and hardship and life-giving that is women’s work.

Also this beautiful essay about mom anger. And not the “I told my kids to stop touching each other and spoke harsher than I should have” kind of anger that many (Christian) pieces talk about and make the rest of us feel bad. This is the real stuff.

+++++

Cooking these egg roll bowls. I up the spices and serve topped with wonton strips and sweet Thai chili sauce for some egg roll realness. I keep meaning to add chopped water chestnuts but can never seem to remember. (Bonus: the leftovers are quick and easy for lunch!)

I’m also back on the iced coffee train. As soon as that temperature kept climbing above freezing I took this bad boy out. It will now remain in permanent residence in our refrigerator until about September. Or maybe October.

+++++

We’ve officially entered the dramatic hyperbole stage as Brooklyn has begun to drawl, “Oh. my. gosh” and “Are you serious?” Also heard her exclaim, “I think I’m in heaven!” (over a piece of generously buttered popcorn) and “How embarrassing” (out of context, but points for trying). And those were just the ones I heard over the weekend!

2019 03 23 Brooklyn Outside 01.jpg

+++++

I’ve been obsessed with this fabric shaver. Yes, a de-fuzzer. Hello, life in my 30s.

There’s an old cardigan I love: the fit is perfect, the weight is just right, and the color goes with everything. Except it was covered with those annoying little fuzz balls. It looked sloppy. I wondered if I needed to give it up, find a new cardigan to adore.

Then I researched and purchased sweater shavers. One pass with the defuzzer and my cardigan was like new again. I’ve been using it on everything from sweaters to t-shirts to leggings (seriously saved a favorite and expensive pair of mine from Athleta).

It’s been especially worthwhile because I gave up buying things for Lent. Or at least, buying non-essential things. I’ve been trying to think of how to phrase this exactly. I couldn’t just give up online shopping because that’s how I order my groceries. Also, one crazy trip to Target could completely blow the intent of that fast. So I gave up buying things I just don’t need. No new clothes, nail polish, $6 lattes, etc. My foundation is about to run dry, so I’ll purchase a fresh one sometime in the next couple of weeks: it’s an essential I use just about every day. But eye shadow? Yeah. I have enough. I still order coffee if I go to a coffee shop to write (the way I see it, that’s just me paying my dues to be able to use their space). But no runs through the Caribou drive-thru just because. Clothes and accessories? Nope.

(Though ask me if I panic-ordered my way through a couple of web sites the Monday and Tuesday before Lent began. The answer to that is YES.)

(Also I completely forgot and bought a shirt when we went to see Michelle Obama on her book tour a couple weeks ago. We walked in, saw the merchandise tables, and my mom said, “I think we should all get matching shirts!” That was all it took for me to say, “Yes obviously!” and I proudly handed over my $35. Forgot about my fast literally until I walked into the house that night. Wore my shirt proudly the next day anyway.)

I’ve been keeping a list in my phone of things that keep running through my head, things that really would be nice for the new season. A pair of Birkenstocks. New sunglasses because mine have been through two seasons and sit kind of crooked. A new tumbler for smoothies or all that iced coffee I’m drinking since I recently dropped mine and shattered half the lid. (It still works for now...kinda.)

This is as much about checking myself before making impulse purchases as it is about saving myself time. I’ve begun to realize how often I would scroll through the Madewell website just to see what was new or on sale, how many shops I follow on Instagram, the number of times I would waste 10 minutes on a retail site with no intent of ever buying.

Anyway, all that to say, my de-fuzzer has come in especially handy at refreshing some of my “old” clothes and helping them look new again. $10 well spent. Even if you’re in the middle of a “don’t buy things” fast.